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Volunteers find a perfect pandemic project: bringing TLC to worn-down Little Free Libraries

Posted at 6:04 PM, Nov 25, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-25 18:18:27-05

CLEVELAND — They’re small, inviting, and packed with adventure. Little Free Libraries are set up all over northeast Ohio. The philosophy behind them is beautiful in its simplicity.

“Take a book, leave a book if you have a book that you want to leave, but there’s no rules,” explained Kids' Book Bank Volunteer Services Coordinator Colleen Watt.

The Kids' Book Bank started its mission to bring more Little Free Libraries to Cleveland about five years ago. Watts told us why it was so important to have these quaint tiny libraries in our communities: “For kids in Cleveland who might not have a single book in their house, this is a way that we’re reaching them where they live.”

Five years is a lot to endure in northeast Ohio’s famously fickle weather and the boxes are showing some wear and tear.

That’s where the National Council of Jewish Women Cleveland comes in. They’re a longtime partner of the Kids Book Bank and they found themselves in some need of new contact-free volunteer opportunities this year.

“The project really came around because of the pandemic. Generally, we’re in schools, especially in the summer. We generally go into a school when school isn’t in session and revamp a library,” said Debbie Joseph, the NCJW Building Bridges with Books Chair.

It was actually Joseph’s daughter who inspired her.

“As we went around, some were really beat up, some needed a paint job, and my daughter said to me, ‘are these ever going to get redone?’” Joseph said.

So a new contact-free volunteer opportunity was born.

NCJW volunteers are now auditing all of the Little Free Libraries in Cleveland.

“We matched up Little Free Library maps to the actual physical libraries. There were some discrepancies; we tried to fix those and we noted the condition of each of the Little Free Libraries. We filled them up,” Joseph said.

The volunteers are also reaching out to each library’s owner or adopter to see who could use a helping hand with keeping them up, and they’re helping to make sure the boxes stay fully stocked.

This story is part of A Better Land, an ongoing series that investigates Northeast Ohio's deep-seated systemic problems. Additionally, it puts a spotlight on the community heroes fighting for positive change in Cleveland and throughout the region. If you have an idea for A Better Land story, tell us here.